Quantifying Fame

Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky

I’m reading a great book called Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations by Clay Shirky. However, I’m not done yet so this is not a book review. I wanted to share a point he makes within the chapter I’m reading about quantifying fame.

Clay’s definition of fame is essentially when someone can no longer respond to all the attention he/she gets. That is, someone like Oprah could spend all her life responding to fan mail or email and she wouldn’t be able to get it all done, no matter how impersonal and short the reply is, using whatever technology she currently has at her disposal. But that’s it! You don’t need to win 8 gold medals at an Olympics, or be on your favourite music awards show, necessarily. You might just have to whine about how the press is treating Britney Spears so unfairly on YouTube. No, I’m not wasting my time linking it. You go find it if you really want to.

Actually, some bands and singers who appear on these big music awards show, or other shows that would seem to make them famous in the more socially accepted definition of the word, couldn’t even come close to having as many people know about them as people know about someone like that whiner. So who’s big now?

Where Clay comes in with his book is that media like the Internet and all its features, whether blogs or Twitter, comments on photo sites, etc. have drastically changed the ability to become famous. It’s so easy to reach people and contact them now, so fast, that fame can happen faster than ever before, not to mention far more easily, like with Susan Boyle. It can also happen anonymously, like with some blogs that have cult following audience, without all the taboos associated with the word cult. But inevitably, it has to happen and happen far more frequently than ever before, at an increasing rate as we are more “in-touch” with the world through all our technology.

It’s absolutely true! I just never thought about it that way or articulated it that way, though way back in 1995, I saw this coming with how news was starting to include deaths of all kinds of people, some of whom I didn’t think were famous enough to deserve a national mention to bring everybody’s spirits down. One may not know or care about a person, but news of death doesn’t leave one feeling neutral, especially if there’s a reason attached to it like there often was mentioned as a cause of death. Worse is the tragic story, more tragic than the old age cancer that might have been inevitable anyway. And from that, I wrote a free verse poem called Media Obituaries.

Clay Shirky (photo from TED.com)

Clay Shirky (photo from TED.com)

Why I wanted to share Clay’s definition of fame is because I wanted to get you thinking and see if it would reshape your frame of reference with respect to fame. Does that make certain people you know famous, then, that you had not considered famous before?

Are you?

Remember, you achieve fame when you can no longer respond to all your correspondence even if you devoted your entire time to it.

And while I’m here talking about Clay, I’m going to throw in a superb video of a 21 minute talk Clay gave at a TED.com (my favourite learning source) conference in 2005 on Institutions vs Collaboration. It’s about how an institution like government could choose to either enable or be an obstacle to collaboration afforded by new Web 2.0 technology. I work for government, I love this stuff, and I wish I could break down a few walls so we wouldn’t be such an obstacle but rather be an enabler that government should be.

Imagine that! Wish me luck!

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 9.7

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